DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Avarie Giles, 6, carries a little stuffed duck with her everywhere.
“He sleeps with her, he’s been through the wash a few times,” her mom, Janelle Rhyasen said.
His name is Donor Duck, and he’s a reminder of the gift that saved her life. Just 15 months ago, Avarie had Leukemia, and less than a 50 percent chance of survival.
“It was devastating, you know, you watch your child laying there, suffering and you can’t do anything for her.” Rhyasen said tearfully, “She stopped eating and her body was shutting down and there was nothing you can do. It was horrible to watch, and you want to take it away and you can’t”
While going through chemotherapy, Avarie not only lost her hair, she also lost the use of her legs and couldn’t walk for a year and a half. Her only hope was a bone marrow transplant, but neither her siblings or her parents were a match.
“The bone marrow is the organ where all the blood cells are formed,” said Dr. Luis Pineiro, an oncologist at Baylor Medical Center Dallas. “Each sibling has a 1 in 4 chance of being compatible, however from someone else, it’s extremely difficult.”
The family lives near Portland, Oregon, but thousands of miles away in North Texas, a complete stranger was Avarie’s second chance at life.
25-year-old Kyle Lusk became a bone marrow donor while at Rowlett High School when a classmate was diagnosed with cancer.
When he was 23, his marrow became a match.
“They just called me up and said there’s someone who can use your help.” he said. “I don’t feel like I did something out of the norm. Anytime you have a chance to help someone you should do it.”
Lusk went through a process called Hematopoietic stem cell collection, which he said was like donating plasma or blood.
Doctors were able to transplant those stem cells into Avarie.
“This is a treatment that we offer for cure, that is the expectation, that is the goal.” Pineiro said, “We completely eliminate the bone marrow and replace it with a healthy bone marrow.”
Today, Avarie is healthy and cancer-free.
“He’s saved her life, and his blood runs through her now, and so he’s a part of our family, genetically he’s there every day.” Rhyasen said, “I can’t believe there are 23-year-old men in this world who are on this registry and went through the process that he went through to save someone’s life he’s never met.”
Thursday, Avarie and her family met Lusk for the first time at a banquet for Bone Marrow Donors at Baylor Medical Center.
“It feels amazing to meet you,” Avarie’s mother said, “and I just want to say ‘thank you’.”
Soon after Kyle’s bone marrow donation, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. She also received a transplant from an unrelated donor, but died in August.
Because finding a compatible donor is extremely difficult and rare, the database needs as many donors as possible, doctors said.
To find out how you can become a donor, visit the National Marrow Donor Program‘s website.